Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"It's just what it is!" Meaning and Purpose in Writing: INKBLOTS

Five of us, frigid evening, snow yesterday, but none on the ground at the moment, though forecast for more snow imminent. But we're warm and cozy in the Scriptorium, ready for a productive evening of discussion about writing, reading manuscript excerpts, critiquing one another, and laughing a bit too (at ourselves).

Jonathan Anderson, AP literature high school teacher, began reading Flannery O'Connor and Hawthorne and Dostoevsky, all of whom conspired to help Jonathan create meaning in the midst of authentic literature. After receiving many rejection notices, and plans to self publish, he then received an acceptance letter, after only a week and a half, from Severed Press, a publisher dedicated to printing the works of speculative fiction writers.

Before Jonathan read, we launched into a discussion about meaning in literature. Are the best books, as some passionately insist, just what they are, no meaning, no message, no higher purpose, no bigger picture or issue the author cares deeply about? I have had this discussion with several. It is remarkable how passionately held, how vein bulgingly doctrinaire this view is insisted upon by its advocates and devotees (and how utterly ironic that is, though they don't seem to get the irony). But nobody who carefully reads any of the best authors thinks that they do not have a purpose for writing, a truth they want to convey, a falsehood they want to expose. Honest authors admit this. I'm pretty sure the others use the argument as a ruse to cover for the real agenda they want to insinuate into their readers imagination, but in the guise of no agenda. "There are no moral or immoral books," insisted Oscar Wilde... which is, of course, a moral judgment about books in and of itself. The amoral book argument is a clever disguise and many do not realize it's there; nevertheless, the idea conveyed, foisted on the reader, is no less purposeful. We discussed whether or not art is diminished when the artist has a purpose for writing, a particular concern that they want to explore, a characteristic of life and meaning they want to unearth. The favorite new dictate that writers not have a message, is a thinly veiled guise, that stands in defiance of the centuries, yea, the millenniums of literature from whatever the culture.

Jonathan reads from chapter three of his new speculative fiction novel,  just released with Severed Press. I'm not a reader or a writer of speculative zombie literature. There, I've said it. Nevertheless, right off, it is clear to the reader that Jonathan has literary taste and skill; there is a narrative fluidity to his style, clearly written by someone who has human sensitivities and philosophical and theological objectives. Cross, old fashioned and womanish. Sound of the vacant wind tore through. Crowd used twice in two back to back sentences; maybe try varying with mob or other simile. Trevelyan sounds like a media figure. I find it fascinating how you give brief vignettes of the oncoming zombies, features from their former life. This works so well. I think it is remarkable how you have been able to feature biblical thought in a favorable light and yet not drive a secular publisher away. I was reminded of Jezebel being dump out the upper window and the dogs falling to on her body and blood. This is grim material, bloody and ugly, as I think you intended it to be. I think the reaction you have for your protagonist is so important to this story. He feels remorse, or some anguish at the horror he experienced as he defended himself against the hoard. You have your character reciting Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd..." Just as a point of accuracy, an automatic pistol is not, strictly speaking, a gun. I feel the inexorable nature of your protagonist's dilemma, they just keep coming back. The woman sniffed, or was it a scoff (at his Bible). Jude, Jonathan's protagonist, is an unapologetic Christian, and Jonathan has managed to have this book published by a secular publisher, remarkable. This is not my genre, but Jonathan does it remarkably well. You do a good job of giving the antagonistic unbeliever voice, letting her express all the antagonism toward Christianity that is real from the unbeliever. Deep longing, overwhelming. The intensity of the horror is so real. I probably won't sleep tonight!

We often talk about the use of coarse language, cursing and swearing, at Inkblots. Is there a way to express the coarse realities of foul language, the way so many of our neighbors talk when they are angry or afraid, or, for some of them, it is simply the only vocabulary at hand to the frustrated, angry, individual outside of grace, who can only find satisfaction, power, control, in lashing out verbally--is it possible to convey the reality of this kind of verbal expulsion without actually using the language? Why does this work, that is, make us feel fear, see, feel, and smell the reality of the unreality of this speculative image? Specifics. Jonathan gives us precise, incremental specifics, blow-by-blow.

Bob commented how I always nail him for not engaging all the senses. Jonathan engages the tactile sense more so than others. John commented that there were disconnects. The boy with the key, the woman in the woods. Puzzled John. Jude did not go get a weapon. Seemed like that would be the first thing he would do, get a weapon. Bob thought you could fine-tune your adjective use, use one where you have two, for example. Very fine writing, and a big congratulations on new published book!

Rachel picks up her story about the Russian chef on a mission to discover the finest cheese. I love the clothes on his back and the price on his head. Rachel does a good job of being specific, precise details about the table, dining, cuisine. Rachel, so excited about a connect with a real Russian. wringing her for information, plans to read more next time. We await with baited breath.

Bob gave us another snippet of his O'Henry-esque crime yarn set in Soap Lake Eastern Washington, shyster preying on the unsuspecting. We moaned and groaned when he told us he was going to abandon the project. New Leyden congregation, Dutch congregation, hard-working farmers. Bob has
a way about him, and his writing. It has that Norwegian detachment: I told you I loved you when I married you. I'll let you know if anything changes. What more do you want? Pastor Van Houten. Bob, you are a crack-up.

Shift gears, Bob is writing the 95 These for the 21st Century. We didn't have time to read it tonight but next time. We will email the gang about meeting or not meeting on December 20.

By the way, I can squeeze in one last participant for the April 1-18, 2017 OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS. Plans are finalizing, so don't delay. If you know someone who is ready to take their writing to the next levels, this week-long intensive on-location where so many of the great writers learned their craft, may be for them (or you!)

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